by Temimah Zucker
At the end of the academic calendar, students often look back on the growth, challenges, successes, and failures of the year. They also reflect on how quickly time flew, even though they thought they’d never make it through the school year. This past year I completed my first year of graduate school and yet, as June begins, this was not the process on which I have been reflecting. Rather, I have looked back on the six-month journey as a fellow with PresenTense.
Back in December I applied for a fellowship with the New York chapter of PresenTense, “a largely volunteer-run community of innovators and entrepreneurs, thinkers and leaders, creators and educators from around the world, who are investing their ideas and energy to revitalize the established Jewish community. PresenTense fosters the next generation of social entrepreneurs by helping innovators and entrepreneurs build new ideas into transformational ventures. It does so through Fellowships, PTSchool seminars, and local innovation Hubs.”
After a process of speed interviewing I was told that I would be one of 11 fellows to take part in the five-month journey that is the skills-based fellowship for Jewish social entrepreneurs who wish to change the world and make a difference. The pitch that I proposed was Tikvah V’Chizuk (Hope and Strength: Eating Disorder Support for the Jewish Community). This is the website I had created and wished to develop into something greater. I proposed that I would turn TVC into a nonprofit, where the website would (I believe I used the term) “explode” and provide more and create greater understanding, support, and connections.
Among the goals were to create a dialogue within the Jewish community with regard to eating disorders, provide culturally sensitive support for those suffering, offer support for loved ones of those in recovery, and give a space for those in recovery to express themselves artistically. I was accepted into the fellowship program and had fantastic plans. I believed my nonprofit would be launched by May, that my venture was the most worthwhile, and that while life is not neat, nor can things be placed in a clean little box, everything would run smoothly.
On May 29th the program held a Launch Night, where each fellow pitched his/her venture and then had tables set up where 250 guests (supporters, individuals in the Jewish nonprofit world, and various other attendees) could visit each fellow and learn more. Reflecting on my first day in the fellowship to its conclusion on Launch Night prompted more than a few realizations.
Success is to be measured by pride and joy. Since my recovery from an eating disorder, I genuinely believe that one of my strong missions on this earth is to provide support and work in the field of eating disorders with a concentration in the Jewish community. When I was suffering, the glimpses of others in my position within the community gave me strength and provided me with a feeling of comfort among the isolation. This has driven me and motivated me to enter the field. Once I began training and volunteering I realized that I have a true passion for working in the mental health field, and that this goes far beyond my own personal struggles, but becomes solely about those struggling and how I may support these individuals.
PresenTense helped me bring my dreams into reality by launching something to achieve my goals. However, along the way I have learned about what success truly means to me. In college I was always someone who measured success by numbers. When suffering from Anorexia I did the same. PresenTense, and the work in the field now as a milieu counselor at EDTNY and mealtime support, have taught me that success is measured by feelings. Now, a business major or any rational being would argue this point. I do not mean to say that we cannot measure success by money or performance. Rather, I believe internal success and pride comes from how we feel after we have achieved or even attempted our goals. I left Launch Night wondering if my venture had been a success. Rather than focusing on the number of people who approached my table, I have rewired my experience to measure success by the kind words of those whom I met, and the smiles of my friends and family who attended. I was a success because I am working for my goals, and if I can make a difference or support one individual, then that is all I need to know.
Life is not a jigsaw puzzle. I had hoped that by the time I finished the fellowship everything would be finished and my nonprofit would be soaring off the ground. Rather, I am still in the process of officially achieving nonprofit status and have many goals to fulfill and work to complete. But this is all right. “L’Kol Z’man Va’eit” – there is a time for everything and I have taken this to mean that my timeline cannot and should not be rushed. TVC will get to where it needs to be with time and patience, not necessarily when I had planned. But dealing with the “unplanned” is part of what has helped me grow. That flexibility could never have been practiced during my battle with an eating disorder and so I now welcome the challenge and the growth it will bring.
Do not underestimate the power of peers and supporters. The skills and experience of PresenTense were unbelievable, but along the way I learned that while I have numerous ideas, it’s important to get feedback and support by those who care. My peers and the staff, as well as my family and friends, were able to critique me, compliment me, and provide me with a shoulder. I was able to soak in love and warmth, especially regarding an issue that is so meaningful to me.
Why do I share my experiences and these lessons with you? I believe that these life experiences have the ability to provide us with introspection, and to help learn more about our journey here. I believe that each of us has the power to make some sort of difference, to achieve some form of success. My five months at PresenTense and the process of creating an organization that I believe is vital has helped me to grow as a person and I believe all life experiences should be viewed with this power: the power to teach and to help us all progress.
Interested in learning more about “Tikvah V’Chizuk”? Do you wish to help or get involved? Visit tvcsupport.org.